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Previewing the game nobody is talking about

I think the student ticket distribution policy has changed since then, but when I was at the University of North Carolina, getting a seat to a men’s basketball game against an ACC opponent was like looking for the holy grail.

First, you’d have to go the to the ticket office to get a wrist band with a number on it. Then, the Friday before distribution, ticket officials would announce the “magic number,” which is where the line for tickets would start. The Saturday of distribution, you’d have to show up at the Smith Center at 7 a.m. (or was it 6 a.m.?) with your wristband and be there when your number was called before the line formed — the numbers were called in small batches, simultaneously. If you weren’t there, you would lose your right to a spot in line, which would form inside after the numbers had been called. You could be 100 feet from the person calling out your number, but if he or she didn’t see you before they got to the next number (and roll call went quickly), you would lose your spot. This happened to me for the Duke distribution, which is even more complicated because there are two sets of numbers, one for seniors and graduating grad students (which I was) and one for everyone else.

I missed the Duke game my first year because it was scheduled for the week of spring break — front page news on The Daily Tar Heel when the schedule was released in the fall. And after making it through the labyrinth my second year, it seemed the ticketing minotaur at the end of it wanted to chew my head off rather than give me my tickets. I was so mad.

Salvation came, though, in the hands of my good friend Nate, who called me in The Daily Tar Heel newsroom minutes before the game started to let me know his roommate had an extra ticket. I sprinted across campus and managed not to hyperventilate from the exertion as we were finding our seats shortly after tip-off. The Heels lost (Damn, you Chris Duhon!) but Nate’s call, the sprint, the game, all together are among my favorite memories of my time in Chapel Hill.

Much as I love the Heels, though, and much as I enjoy nurturing my hate for Duke, I will be the first to admit that the hype over the rivalry has gotten a little crazy (the headline above was written in sarcasm, if you were wondering). ESPN will never be accused of underselling a sporting event, be it the NBA or the bowling tour, so when it happens to be airing the Tobacco Road rivalry, viewers are going to be subjected to commercials for it for at least a month. Piles of books have been written, the best of the lot being To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever by Will Blythe, if only because the title is awesome. HBO has gotten into the game, with an hour-long documentary (currently on my DVR to watch list) and the most recent Sporting News features a retrospective and insider photos. This is all great for those of us who love these teams, but likely less interesting for those who don’t.

If you belong in that latter group, be thankful, my friends, that ESPN isn’t showing Sunday’s UNC Senior night game against Coach K’s crew. Otherwise, the endless stream of hype and game previews by Dickie V would have left you breathless and quivering about a week ago. Still, if you’re looking for (decidedly biased) reasons to watch (or not to watch), here they are.

1) Final home game for UNC’s seven seniors and at least two juniors likely to bolt for the NBA, which means more standing ovations than a State of Union speech.

2) Danny Green might dunk on Greg Paulus again.

3) Gerald Henderson might break someone’s nose for old time’s sake.

4) Someone other than Billy Packer will be calling the game! Hallelujah!

5) If coverage starts early enough, we might see Michael Copeland’s handshakes.

The game itself? Senior jitters (some scrubs will start) and UNC’s typically porous defense will allow Duke to stay in the game in a back-and-forth first half, but UNC’s depth — especially in the post, where Duke has nobody — will help the Heels pull away eventually. Roy will take Bobby Frasor and Michael Copeland out at the 2 minute mark and Danny Green at the 1:00 mark and Tyler Hansbrough at 0:40.

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